Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dad’s Dream: A Tale of Two Houses

Thanks so much to St. Petersburg, Florida Kitchen Designer, Paul Anater, for inviting me to guest post for his blog Kitchen and Residential Design during his absence. The piece I’ve written is far more sentimental and estrogen-infused than his normal fare, so I’ve been second guessing the whole idea. I suppose I could have written about my specialty, Kitchen Design. But since my dad passed away thirty years ago this month I have been spending a lot of time revisiting some old memories, especially those surrounding our living spaces. So here I go, with a little Christmas tribute to my dad:


My dad, the electronics professor with the teasing wit and clip-on bow tie, had a manuscript for a college textbook to complete and three noisy rug rats underfoot.  “We’ll go to the country for the summer,” he must have said to Mom. So they rented a seven-bedroom, turn of the century, Dutch Colonial farmhouse in a small town nestled on the upland slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was 1969.

Brown House 
The house itself was decrepit, with advanced plumbing issues. I can remember turning a squeaky faucet handle and observing the slow oozing of rusty goo into a wall-mount lavatory. It was minimally furnished, most notably for me with a record player and stack of albums which included The Ventures, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and The Beach Boys. There were clawfoot tubs, cold linoleum floors and secret passageways. It was absolutely wonderful; and it was here that we all huddled around our black-and-white console TV to watch a grainy image of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.

Christmas 1968
While we kids were enamored with the house and the space to run, Dad was enamored with the close proximity of his beloved redwoods. These are graceful, velvet-barked, tilt-your-head-back-and-try-to-find-the-top kinds of trees. On many Sundays after church we would be treated to dipped cones at Foster Freeze, then a drive through the dense, moist, redwood forests of California’s Coastal Range.

Summer rolled into fall and it became clear that we weren’t ever going back to Monterey. Dad bought several acres of future paradise on a steep hillside with a lush valley view and never finished the manuscript.

For the next five years he was a man with a plan and a long commute to teach year-round plus some night classes. Our occasional vacations meant piling into the Ambassador station wagon (without seatbelts) to visit family, with stops to tour model homes: A-Framed, chalet-style mountain retreats. Dad’s enthusiasm was contagious, and we had all caught it.

So when the framing eventually went up, we were totally engaged with the process. I think this is why even today I adore the sweet scent of sawdust on a jobsite or in a cabinet shop. Miraculously my sister and I, as teenagers, were able to agree on one thing: our new bedroom would have lavender walls and chartreuse shag carpet. Deep shag. Life held such promise; we each had ample closet space for our bell bottoms and wrap-around skirts and plenty of wall space for our fuzzy black-light posters. Dad fashioned swinging saloon-style doors to separate the toilet space from our long, double vanity.

scan0019 Dad's Dream House

All of the cabinetry was birch plywood with a simple, flat door, routed on the back side to lip over the face frame. Outfitted with the latest Harvest Gold appliances, the galley kitchen stretched no more than ten feet long. Mom chose sunflower gold tile for the countertops and a happy blue and yellow vinyl flooring. There was no microwave of course. We didn’t know we needed microwaves in the 70’s.

There was, however, a small appliance that truly christened the kitchen of our A-framed chalet in the redwoods. On our first Christmas in the new house, Auntie Midgie and Uncle Owen presented my parents with the latest innovation: a Joe DiMaggio-endorsed, Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffeemaker that eventually gurgled and brewed to everyone’s delight. But Dad “wrote the book” on electronics, so he didn’t need directions. When his first coffee-brewing efforts were met without success, Dad proclaimed in his most professorial voice that there was obviously “too much turbulence in the scupper hole." This would become a family mantra of sorts for all future technical difficulties.

Mr Coffee sm
Uncle Owen admires the Mr. Coffee.  (Mom & Dad are on the right)
And so just as Dad had dreamed, this A-Framed abode with its pointed nose of window glass, extensive redwood decking and mountain charm, sat in harmony with its environs. And a gregarious, hard-working man realized a dream.

Less than two years later, before the new-house smell had even gone, Dad learned that he had lung cancer. Our family went into survival mode and tried to reconcile that what once felt like a shiny new beginning was now the beginning of the end. My courageous dad tried to go back to work for awhile with just one lung. He loved a few things even more than the redwoods...teaching for one, family for another.

Just before Dad passed, he briefly came out of a semi-comatose state and with a sense of urgency asked us to sing a hymn, In The Garden. My mom, Auntie Midgie and I sang it very poorly, but Dad's eyes and ears seemed to be witnessing something infinitely more angelic. Here is the last verse:

I'd stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go, through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He left us, there in his redwood paradise. He had pursued the things he loved. As I squeamishly approach the age my dad was when he bought that piece of property(!), I appreciate ever more deeply the lifestyle he modeled. He is still teaching. He’s teaching us to journey to discover our own unique dreams, the ones that are so divinely designed that they inspire a hope that propels us to act, and a joy that’s contagious.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”

Merry Christmas.

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